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WEST, CHARLES SHANNON

WEST, CHARLES SHANNON (1829–1885). Charles Shannon West, legislator and Texas Supreme Court justice, son of John Camden and Nancy Clark (Eccles) West, was born on September 24, 1829, in Camden, South Carolina. He attended Jefferson College in Western Pennsylvania and the College of South Carolina, where he graduated in 1848. He then taught in a small private school for two years. He was intent upon becoming a lawyer, and during those two years he also read law in the offices of James Chesnutt, Jr. He passed his bar examinations in 1850. After a brief, unproductive effort to build a law practice in Camden, he moved to Texas, reaching Austin in early 1852. In 1854 Henry P. Brewster, a fellow South Carolinian, invited him into partnership in his law office. By 1855 Brewster had moved to Washington to practice international law, and West took the opportunity to run for the state legislature as a representative for the Austin district. At age twenty-six he was the youngest member of the legislature. When Charles had finished his term in the Texas legislature, John Hancock invited him to join his law firm. They represented such clients as the Houston and Central Texas Railway. In 1855 West's father died at Camden, and the remaining immediate family, including John C. West, Jr., moved to Austin. Charles West married Florence Duval, daughter of United States Judge Thomas Howard Duval, on September 1, 1859. Florence was talented as a poet and popular as musician; together the young couple became leaders in the social life of Austin. They had three sons, including DuVal West.

West accepted a nomination by secessionist Governor Francis R. Lubbock as secretary of state. After only a few months he took a commission, with the rank of captain, as assistant adjutant general in the Confederate Department of Texas. In the battle of Galveston, West was detailed to the staff of Brig. Gen. William R. Scurry; he was given complimentary mention for valuable services and good conduct. On April 30, 1864, West, still on Scurry's staff, was in the midst of the furious fighting at Jenkins Ferry (the battle of Saline) when General Scurry was mortally wounded. West was promoted to major for gallantry in this action and assigned as judge advocate general of the Trans-Mississippi Department, a post he held until the end of the war. After the war John Hancock, West's former law partner and a staunch Unionist, invited West to rejoin the law firm. West was one of the three delegates from Travis County to the Constitutional Convention of 1875. He was elected chairman of the committee on general provisions and was a member of the judiciary committee, which reshaped the Court of Appeals. The convention, under the strong influence of the newly organized Grange, had little faith in the efficacy of government. In consequence, the delegates severely limited the powers and the pay of many essential agencies. After West reviewed the cumbersome document that the convention had produced, he joined the group that submitted a minority report recommending against its adoption; however, he later voted for the document, believing it to be "far superior to the existing organic law." The new constitution called for a codification of all Texas statutes. When the legislature in 1876 set up a committee to do this, West was one of the members appointed, and the other members elected him chairman. He poured his best talents into the multi-volume Revised Statutes of Texas, a ponderous but serviceable work, adopted in 1879. During the mid-1870s, West also assumed a major role in launching state-supported education at the collegiate level. This time he represented the Austin Congressional district as one of six directors from around the state to establish the long-authorized Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (later Texas A&M). West and Bennett Williams prepared the first promotional leaflet for the new college.

Florence West died on November 21, 1881. In 1882 West was nominated associate justice of the Supreme Court of Texas. He won the election and was installed on the bench of the Supreme Court on December 23, 1882. He resigned on September 29, 1885, and died on October 23.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Austin American-Statesman, October 24, 1885. John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). Harbert Davenport, History of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas (Austin: Southern Law Book Publishers, 1917). James D. Lynch, The Bench and Bar of Texas (St. Louis, 1885). George Sessions Perry, The Story of Texas A&M (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951). Roy L. Swift, Civilizers: The DuVals of Texas from Virginia through Kentucky and Florida (Austin: Eakin Press, 1992).

Roy L. Swift

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Roy L. Swift, "WEST, CHARLES SHANNON," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwe29), accessed April 19, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.